2017 World Food Championships: World Recipe Championship Opening Round + 2 Recipes

This post was sponsored by Johnsonville, Melissa’s Produce, and Liquidiamond but the opinions expressed here are my own.

Since we were staying in Pensacola, we all got up early. This wasn’t an ordinary media day for us. It was my first time in Kitchen Arena as a competitor in the World Recipe Championship. As we neared the arena, various levels of different emotions ran through my body: excitement, nervousness, anxiety. But I had practiced for months on these recipes and I was ready to give it my best. My mom had been nervous ever since I had asked her if she wanted to be my sous chef. After practicing the recipes, she got the hang of it, but knowing that people would be watching us live and cameras would be on capturing our every move, didn’t seem to help her nerves any. We “carbed up” with another wonderful breakfast at The Southern Grind Coffeehouse. The alarm on my phone signaled it was time to head down to Kitchen Arena to pick up my chicken order from the pantry. We finally headed into Kitchen Arena with two suitcases, a plastic storage box, and cooler full of kitchen equipment, tools, and ingredients for the competition.
The World Recipe Championship was presented by Springer Mountain Farms and the Opening Round included two builds: Structured Build and Signature Dish. The Structured Build was “Chicken Soup” (defined as hearty broth-based soup whose star ingredient will be chicken). The Signature Dish was the competitor’s choice, although it needed to fit the general “theme” of chicken to receive maximum points.
I’d like to give a big thank you to my sponsors: Johnsonville, Melissa’s Produce, and Liquidiamond. Johnsonville gave me my first glimpse into food competitions from a competitor’s point of view by winning Johnsonville’s The Sausage Dome in January 2017. I have been working with Melissa’s Produce for most of my food writing career and knew that their fresh, flavorful products would give my dishes that “wow factor” for the eyes and the taste buds. I used Liquidiamond knives after winning one in a giveaway. I knew I needed sharp, easy to handle knives while working with whole and parted chicken. They provided their new Liquidiamond Edge Series Sea Glass G-10 Grip knives for the competition.
After unpacking, Kitchen Arena became chicken mania with 37 competitors cooking chicken! Chicken soup was up first so it was time to part up a whole chicken. With kitchen shears, a cleaver, and boning knife, I parted up a whole chicken in under five minutes! I couldn’t believe I did it in that amount of time – a personal best. Learned it from watching Gordon Ramsey on MasterChef! That saved time went into the pressure cooker time which we desperately needed.
Mom was focused on all the “mise en place” so I all had to do was grab a bowl or plate of ingredients and add it into the soup stock. We worked well together and timed it right where we could switch sides to work on different parts of the recipe.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, it was time to see if the chicken cooked in the pressure cooker. We didn’t have great luck at home, but it was the only way I could think of to get the chicken cooked in time with a tender texture. Drum roll! The chicken came out perfect! Although it was hot, we went to work shredding and chunking it up for the soup. The broth and seasoning left in the pressure cooker added that “slow simmer” flavor we needed for the soup.
Cooking is just one part of the entry. There is also a presentational element. Being a professional food competition judge, it really helped me through this process. The first thing a judge scores is presentation. The presentation plate is the first impression you make to judges – creative, eye-appealing, appetizing. Since Dia De Los Muertos had just passed, I thought it would be great to crown a molcajete with fall colored flowers.
My entry, Fiesta Chicken Chile Soup, came together better than expected. It had all the flavor that I was shooting for. My pesto didn’t come out quite as smooth as I wanted it to but added a nice color component. E.A.T. Score: 93.375 out of 100. Try the recipe below and see what you think:
Fiesta Chicken Chile Soup by OC Food DivaMakes 8-10 servings
With the fall season, soup is a great way to warm up on a cold day. Fiesta Chicken Chile Soup will fire up your taste buds with chile, smoky herbaceous seasoning, sweet white corn, and refreshing cilantro pesto.
Soup:4 oz can diced green chiles2 – 14.5 oz cans Red Gold Diced Tomatoes½ onion, diced16 oz package frozen petite white corn1 Springer Mountain Farms Whole Chicken, parted2 – 32 oz reduced sodium chicken broth2 tsp Melissa’s Minced Garlic3 tbsp California Rancher Oaky Smoky1 tsp Don Enrique Comino Molido (ground cumin)Large bottle of vegetable oil for frying
Cilantro Pesto:1 cup cilantro with stems¼ cup Don Enrique Pepitas½ cup EVOO½ lime, juiced½ avocado2 tsp Melissa’s Minced Garlic½ tsp salt
Garnish6 corn tortillas, cut into stripsCotija, crumbled for garnishCilantro leaves for garnish1 roma tomato, dicedFlowers for presentation
Heat medium pan with 1/3 of the pot with vegetable oil on medium heat. Fry tortilla strips to light golden brown and set aside.Part up whole chicken and season with Oaky Smoky seasoning. Place in pressure cooker with 2 cups of chicken broth. Place on high heat for 35 minutes.In a stock pot, sauté onion and garlic until slightly browned. Add diced tomatoes, green chiles, rest of chicken broth, corn, Oaky Smoky seasoning, and cumin. Bring to a boil then lower heat to simmer.For the cilantro pesto: Combine cilantro, pepitas, EVOO, lime juice, garlic, avocado, and salt in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Place in a squeeze bottle and set aside.After 35 minutes, remove pressure cooker from heat and release pressure. Remove chicken and place on a baking sheet to cool slightly. Add remaining liquid from pressure cooker to soup. Roughly shred chicken from the bone and rough chop. Place chicken in soup. Simmer until ready to plate.Ladle soup into bowls and top with tortilla strips, cotija cheese, diced fresh tomato, cilantro pesto, and cilantro leaves. Crown bottom of bowl with fresh cut flowers.
The round wasn’t over yet. It was time to work on my Signature Dish, Spicy Italian Meatball Sandwich. This is a hybrid of my Johnsonville Spicy Touchdown Sausage Stuffed Bites recipe. The original recipe was designed for tailgating or game day party – a handheld bite ready for dipping. But I wanted to make it a meal. This dish became an ode to my hubby’s grandma who had recently passed. Drawing upon her Italian heritage, the Spicy Italian Meatball Sandwich was born. I even brought some of her bowls and cooking utensils to use and draw upon her energy as the amazing home cook she was.
This doesn’t happen very often, but we had a few minutes of time between prepping and cooking to take a breather. The hubby caught that moment. We were just going over what we had left to do while the meatballs were cooking in the oven.
Meatballs were cooked and ready to go into a quick bath in the sauce.
It was time to get the platter ready for presentation. I used an old technique I had learned from my days at Disney. I used to cut bread boules for clam chowder & gumbo and baguette boats for hot & cold sandwiches at Café Orleans. It provided a nice vessel for the meatballs & sauce and it just looked so damn sexy. Food porn, baby!
Spicy Italian Meatball Sandwich was ready for turn-in. I was happy how this entry turned out. It had a stage presence all its own with the colors of the Italian flag. Grandma would be proud! E.A.T. Score: 98.25 out of 100. Final score for the opening round: 95.8125 out of 100, placing me in 7th place. Placing 1stthrough 10th qualified me to move on to the Top 10 Infused Ingredient Round. See what you think and try the recipe below:
Spicy Italian Meatball Sandwich by OC Food DivaMakes 8 sandwiches or 24 sliders
With fall and winter coming, a hot sandwich is in order. Spicy Italian Meatball Sandwich will fire up your taste buds with the spicy kick from the spicy Italian sausage and meaty ground chicken with gooey cheese inside and around it. Hot marinara sauce keeps everything warm and hot as it is nestled inside a fresh French baguette.
Meatballs:1 package Johnsonville Spicy Italian Sausage (in casing or ground)1 lb Springer Mountain Farms Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, ground1 cup Bisquick2 eggs, whisked2 tsp Don Enrique Ajo Grranulado (granulated garlic)3 string cheese sticks, cut into 24 segments (8 segments per stick)
Sauce:2 - 18 oz jars marinara sauce3 tsp Melissa’s Minced Garlic1 roma tomato½ medium onion
Sandwich:8 French rolls (sandwich size) or 24 French dinner rolls2 – 8 oz packages sliced provolone cheese, cut each slice into quarters for sliders or cut each slice in half for sandwiches4 oz can sliced black olivesShredded parmesanParsley leavesPreheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with foil. Rough chop up roma tomato and onion. Combine in blender with minced garlic and puree until smooth. Place in sauce pan and cook on medium high until bubbling.Add marinara sauce and lower to simmer to keep warm until ready to serve.If using sausage in casing, remove casing and put sausage into a large bowl.Combine sausage, chicken, Bisquick, eggs, granulated garlic.Using a 1-inch scoop (around 2 tablespoons), scoop sausage mixture into your hand. Make a divot with your spoon or scoop. Place a segment of string cheese into the center and fold the sausage mixture around the cheese. Roll into ball making sure there are no cracks where the cheese can leak out. Place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.Place meatballs in sauce until ready to serve.Turn oven to broil.If using sandwich-size French rolls, cut a pocket on top. Remove cut-out bread (save for croutons or bread crumbs for a later date).Place cut provolone cheese slices on inner sides for presentation sandwich or dinner rolls - 4 half slices for sandwich or 3 quarter slices for dinner roll.Place cut rolls with cheese in oven until cheese is melted, 2 minutes.Ladle some sauce on top of cheese inside bread.Place meatballs on top of sauce.Spoon sauce over meatballsTop with shredded parmesan, parsley, and olives.

I was so happy to be in the Top 10, standing next to my friend, Lisa Keys, from Team Saucy Mama! What an honor! Love you, Mama Keys! Stay tuned for the 2017 World Recipe Championship Top 10!
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